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6/11/2013 9:56:00 AM
Route 66 ripe for new winery
Ann and Louie Serna jump headfirst into wine making and plant vineyard at historic Wagon Wheel Lodge eight miles east of Williams
Ann and Louie Serna stand among grapevines the pair recently planted at the historic Wagon Wheel Lodge. The Sernas hope to produce wine on the property. Ryan Williams/WGCN
Ann and Louie Serna stand among grapevines the pair recently planted at the historic Wagon Wheel Lodge. The Sernas hope to produce wine on the property. Ryan Williams/WGCN

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

When most people think of vineyards, they think of California. But one couple has planted a vineyard right here in northern Arizona.

The Wagon Wheel Winery is eight miles east of Williams, at 7545 E. Old Route 66.

Ann and Louie Serna planted about 1,200 grapevines on the property in the past few weeks. The Sernas chose to plant four different varieties of grapes, which come from New York and Europe.

Ann described the varieties as "a special hardy grapevine that is hopefully conditioned to be able to be at this altitude and be able to withstand a couple freezes."

"It's supposed to be quick growth because we don't have a very long growing season in this area," said Ann, who manages the Canyon Plaza Resort at the Grand Canyon.

The vines have tubes around them to protect them from animals and the wind. They should start producing grapes this fall, although the grapes won't be usable until the following year at the soonest.

At that point the Sernas plan to take the grapes to southern Arizona for crushing and fermenting. In the future, they would consider bringing a crushing facility to the property.

Ann's father bought the 10 acres where the historic Wagon Wheel Lodge is located about a year and a half ago.

The Sernas are in the process of registering the building with the National Register of Historic Places and restoring the building to its original appearance. The building will become the tasting room for the winery.

The Wagon Wheel Lodge was originally built in the late 1800s. It opened in 1937, and offered a filling station, food and cabin rentals, according to research by Northern Arizona University history professor Michael Amundson and doctoral student Nels Brogren.

When the Sernas realized the historical significance of the property, they decided to open a winery, to check off an item on Ann's father's "bucket list."

"He's just always wanted a winery, and so we are giving it our best effort to see if we can grow the grapes in this altitude," Ann said. "We're on a wing and a prayer."

The cool temperatures will be the biggest challenge with growing grapes at a high elevation. The Sernas may blanket the vines in the winter to protect them from freezing, Ann said.

"Right now it's a lot of guesswork," she said. "Me and my husband are learning in leaps and bounds on this stuff."

Food and wine historian Jeremy Parzen, who lives in Austin and writes the blog "Do Bianchi," agreed that growing grapes in northern Arizona would be challenging.

"To grow grapes that have the acidity level and the sugar level that you need to make wine takes the right conditions," he said.

At high altitudes, long winters and early spring freezes can interrupt the vegetative cycle of the vine, Parzen said.

"When that gets interrupted it essentially gets slowed down, and it's hard for the vine to catch up in time for the berries to ripen during the summer with the balance that you need to make fine wine," he said.

However, the Sernas are up for the challenge. If the winery is successful, Ann would like to try making champagne blended with different fruits and Louie would like to try planting hops and making beer.

"Who knows where we'll go," Louie said. "We're at the mercy of the wine gods, but so far they're on our side."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2013
Article comment by: Randy Na

It sounds like these two have a well thought out plan and are going to be ready for weather or anything else that comes their way!! What a handsome couple! We hope everything works out and can't wait to visit the Winery and see the restoration of the Wagon Wheel.

Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Article comment by: Linda Creager

Wishing you the best of luck in growing your grapes. The weather here is always full of surprises such as snow in June, lots of rain, no rain, etc.

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